For the fourth and final outing for Christopher Reeve, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace buried the franchise for nearly two decades. Run through the Cannon Group cinematic meat grinder, the film is short and looks cheap, with the cast visibly just going through the motions. Nostalgic fun, but not a great film. On 4K UHD, it scores an often stunning HDR10 transfer, but the Atmos track comically borks the Alexander Courage score. Worth A Look
A lot has been said about one of the biggest cinematic superhero blunders, but Batman and Robin has a challenger for one of the worst ever - Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Made at the height of Cannon Group’s production ponzi scheme of stealing budgets from one film to make another, Superman IV is notoriously cheap looking, rushed for a shortened cut, and just all around not good. The effects were either recycled from other films or were done so cheaply that you’d swear they just threw an action figure in front of the camera. Butchered down to a scant 90 minutes, this film leaves out entire plot beats leading to more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese and for some reason, we never got the longer international version which apparently includes two big action sequences. On top of that, the cast looks broken and disheartened with Reeve and Kidder simply going through the motions while Hackman hams it up for another easy paycheck.
Despite all that (deep down I know it’s a bad movie) this particularly nostalgic sod has a soft spot for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. As an early 80s brat, I grew up with my parents renting the tapes for home viewing but Superman IV was the first one I saw in theaters... sort of. I was small, not quite five, and this was the era before stadium seating and most of my memories of the film in the theaters are of me trying to see around someone’s really big head of hair. But when I could see the screen I got to watch my hero on the big screen and that was enough.
Almost forty years later, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a movie I have a lot of nostalgic love for but only watch as an obsessive Cannon fan. It’s not good, it’s pretty cornball, and looking at the deleted scenes you can feel they never really had a handle on the film before cameras rolled. However, where I’ll give this film an edge over Superman III is at least Superman is the star of his own film and not playing second tier to one of the best comedians to ever live. It sadly just doesn’t have the same iconic super-heroic moments as Superman III to work with because its budget was shredded. The Christopher Reeve Superman vs Marc Pillow Nuclearman fights can be fun, but whenever rear-projected backgrounds pop up or a toy is thrown across the screen, it kinda deflates the tension and excitement - but are good for a laugh.
It’s baffling to me that the studio that produced Death Wish III, Hercules, Bolero, and The Apple somehow got their hands on the Superman and He-Man properties. It shows how much their personal posturing and hype could varnish their actual box office returns. As Chuck Norris would repeatedly take them to task for, Golan and Globus were great at pre-selling films, but financing and proper marketing weren’t their forte. Superman IV should have been the hit that would have given us comic nerds the first cinematic Spider-Man. Instead, it was a death note for the franchise suffering decades of numerous attempted relaunches, right down to the infamous Nicolas Cage/Tim Burton team-up before being shucked out for Superman Returns.
For another take on Superman IV - read my colleague M. Enois Duarte’s 2011 Superman: Motion Picture Anthology Review
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Nuclear Man and Cannon lay waste to a franchise in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as part of the Superman: 5-Film Collection. You can order a single-title version from the UK right now, I’m sure eventually the sequels will be available individually here in the States, but these sequel cases have their own UPC codes so I'm sure they’ll be for sale eventually. A two-disc release, the 4K disc is a BD-66 disc with the same 1080p BD-50 disc from 2011 coming along for the ride. Similar to the other films in the set, the discs are housed in a two-disc black case with individual trays and are not stacked. The cases are then bundled together in a paper slipcase. The discs load to a static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
Arguably the cheapest and possibly the worst Superman film (depending on who you ask), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace recharges in the sun for an excellent 4K HDR10 transfer. Details are terrific letting you fully appreciate Lenny’s 80s clothing, Nuclear Man’s glittery costume, and the flipped footage of Superman’s spit curl as he saves the world with his Insta-repair Laser Vision. Basically, when there aren’t any visual effects in play, the film can look immaculate with clean crisp lines and details with a natural cinematic grain structure without any feeling of smoothing or edge enhancement. When those cheap optical effects come in, it’s almost comically bad in higher resolution - but this is a Cannon film so that’s actually kind of the charm of watching it in the first place.
HDR10, much like Superman III has been carefully and generously applied with Superman’s suit looking the appropriate shade of blue with the right accents for red and yellow. For some of the effects shots, the yellow in Superman’s suit still looks white, but that may just be a side effect of the overly cheap visual effects. It’s an 80s film so those garish fashions have a lot of attractive color pop. I did notice for Nuclear Man’s birth, his radiation aura looked more orange than red now, but that was the only oddity there. Skin tones are accurate and healthy without looking peached or too spray-tanned orange. Black levels are strong and lend a nice sense of depth to the image, but again those cheap optical effects can look pretty rough in that arena - nothing like what we saw for the first three films. Whites are clean and crisp without issue. Film elements are in overall great shape making this a clear and obvious improvement over the previous Blu-ray.
As with the other films, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace flies onto 4K with a new Atmos mix, that would otherwise sound great if they didn’t bork Alexander Courage’s score. Most of the audio elements are in great form with clean clear dialog and actively engaging sound effects to give a great sense of surround immersion. The action sequences between Superman and Nuclear Man fighting in space or when Nuclear Man crashes through all the floors to find Lacy Warfield, there’s some nice height channel activity. Some measure of care and attention was paid for this remix to Atmos. Except for the score. Listing to the original DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that has been carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray, something happened in transition. I’ve read a few odd theories about what could have happened but nothing makes sense why it sounds like a middle school band concert.
From the jump during the opening titles fanfare, it sounds like key sections of the orchestra are missing. At first, I thought it was part of the audio design for the Atmos that some sections could have been moved within the soundscape but after repeatedly listing to the section there are definitely missing instruments leaving the music sounding hollow. In the rumble before the big “Da-Ta-Daaaah!” it sounds like a single trombone was left to carry it and later the woodwinds sound scrapped lacking those clear flute and piccolo trails. Flipping over to the 2.0 track, the score sounds lush and full as it should. Another oddity I felt like the score on the Atmos mix was almost a couple of beats behind the action. When Superman and Nuclear Man first fight and are falling in front of Lex’s penthouse, the music sounds late to the game. Again not an issue on the 2.0 track. It’s all so weird because it does sound like some care went into the sound effects and dialog to give them the presence and resonance we’d want to hear for a big action Atmos track but the score just didn’t make it.
So unless Warner Bros. decides to dig back in and fix this issue, stick with the still impressive DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. It was originally presented in Dolby Stereo, and depending on your receiver’s capabilities, it can matrix out to DTS Neural:X nicely. Maybe not as well as a 5.1 track would but I found it to be a pleasing experience.
DTS-HD MA 2.0: 4/5
As has been the case with all of the previous Superman films, only the Mark Rosenthal commentary track is brought over to the 4K disc. The included 1080p disc is once again identical to the 2011 Blu-ray, so no new bonus content or alternate release editions. Maybe one day we’ll get that home video edition with the Russian Nuke Rescue and Tornado Rescue sequences restored. That Rosenthal commentary is still an essential listen as he doesn’t hold anything back about how Cannon screwed over the film between budget cuts and the final edit.
4K UHD Disc
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is an iconic franchise misfire. The epitome of the Cannon Group’s churn-and-burn movie-making machine, the film was under-budgeted with cheap visual effects and a final cut trimmed to the barest minimum with, its final cut scraped to the barest minimum with a cast that just looks worn out and defeated. Despite how genuinely bad it is, it’s a true Cannon film and is incredibly entertaining - if for the wrong reasons.
Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, arguably one of the worst comic book films, let alone Superman films, comes home with an often damned impressive HDR10 transfer. Most of the film is terrific, but the higher resolution certainly exposes the visual effects’ worst qualities. The Atmos mix could be something to cheer for, but Alexander Courage’s score sounds neutered and mistimed compared to the included DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Chalk that up to another disc Warner Bros. needs to go back and take a look at and replace for an audio issue. That 2.0 track is still excellent so the film is at least watchable for fans looking to enjoy it in 4K. I may like it more than most people out there, but at the very least, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is Worth A Look